At the Cleveland Correctional Center, the men of PEP’s Class 18 have packed in 40 hours a week or more of classes and homework for over four months. They’ve even taken a Toastmasters course to overcome fears of public speaking. Now comes the moment to put what they’ve learned into practice. To graduate, each man must craft a business plan and try to sell it to potential investors.
Al Massey is PEP’s executive relations manager.
“When we first give them the business plan to tell them they’re writing it, they look and they go, ‘Man, I’ve never written anything.’ But we do it in sections, and we have business plan advisors for them. College students, executives that spend one hour a week, and they edit it and send it back and forth, and they actually come meet them in the prison at our workshop.”
Many of the ideas the inmates come up with stack up favorably against any in the corporate world.
“Well one of the top plans I’ve seen, period, has come out of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.”
Ken Jones is associate director of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business.
“It was an idea providing agriculture in your backyard. This would be a service where the gentleman would come in, evaluate your backyard, put in the appropriately sized garden, provide you three harvests a year, and then, eventually, build a website that would allow for neighbors to share and exchange their produce with one another.”
The students revise their business plans more than a hundred times during their time in the program. It’s a competition that amps up on Pitch Day. The men deliver their ideas to panels of volunteer judges, who listen and critique. There are no prizes in this competition, other than street cred. But given who these judges are, that can count for a lot.
“One of the biggest assets the men gain from this experience is a network of literally hundreds of executives who know who they are.”
Jeremy Gregg is PEP’s chief development officer.
“We’ve got multimillionaire investors in this room. One of the guys in that room is a very well off investor who makes angel investments in businesses. He could make investments in these guys’ businesses. And so, doing well in the business plan competition can translate into a network of people willing and interested in how your success plays out in the real world.”
Finalists, PEP Class XVIII Business Plan Competition:
Clarence Campbell, The Shoe Shine “King”
John Fay, Roughneck Mobile Laundry Services
Christopher Holbert, Adrenaline Indoor Paintball
Richard Rodriguez, New Wave NRG